Beef Quality Assurance; Taking Pride in Caring for Cattle

Protecting consumer confidence in beef. That is the the main goal of the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program and I had the opportunity to become BQA Certified last week.

BQA is an educational training for producers to build awareness of industry standards based on recommended national guidelines and research from USDA and the beef industry. As producers, we are always wanting to adapt to improvements that can make us better as well as raising healthier animals. Because, as we all know, healthy animals = healthy beef and that is our goal as ranchers. The BQA training is a voluntary training that focus’s our attention to daily production practices that influence the safety, wholesomeness and quality of beef and beef products.

I personally wanted to take the course to stay up with current research on best management practices and best techniques on administering cattle with vaccines or antibiotics to enhance the quality of the animal’s carcass. This includes preventing residues, eliminating pathogen contamination and avoiding carcass defects. There are many places on an animal that a vaccine or antibiotic CAN be given, which is different than where is SHOULD be given. There are three main routes of administration: Subcutaneous (SubQ), Intramuscular (IM) or Intravenous (IV), along with only three, BQA-approved injection site locations: neck (SubQ, IM), jugular vein (IV) and ear (implant). As a class, we demonstrated the area on the neck with a chalk stick on this cow where neck injections can be given.

Being BQA certified is not just for a rancher to give themselves a pat on the back. It demonstrates commitment to our consumers through food safety and quality, safeguards the public image of the beef and dairy industry and upholds consumer confidence in beef production. For the beef producer, it protects from governmental regulation, improves sale value and enhances herd profitability.

How has BQA improved food safety and beef quality? Every five years, a National Beef Quality Audit (NBQA) is conducted that is a benchmark to providing direction to improve quality and identify shortfalls to allow greater profit through increasing demand. In 1991, the average injection site lesions (marks on the beef where an injection was given which taints beef quality) was 22.3% – nearly a quarter of the entire beef supply! Just 10 years later in 2001, this was decreased to <5%. The 2016 NBQA was recently conducted and as results are not released yet, injection site lesions will be tremendously less than that <5% because of the work that BQA is doing. That is a success story showing that beef producers are making an effort to do things better to improve beef quality for our consumers. 

Animal health and antimicrobial stewardship is another important topic within the BQA training. And even more important, starting Jan. 1, 2017 the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) will be put in place requiring producers who feed antibiotics or antimicrobials to obtain a VFD (a written form or prescription by a licensed veterinarian in the course of their practice approving the use of a VFD medication – along with having a Veterinary Client Patient Relationship (VCPR) form proving your working relationship with your local veterinarian). Read a great blog about VFD from my friend who is a mom and veterinarian, Dr. Dorman, here.

I’ve talked about antibiotic withdrawal times before on Ag on the Forefront here, here, here and here, but it is a good reminder that when we use animal health products, we document the withdrawal time (how much time the product is in the animal’s system) and handle the products with care (keeping cool on hot days and out of the sun, etc.). We learned about needle selection, usage and handling, record keeping and identification, cattle handling and stress reduction, cattle facilities and transporting cattle, humane euthanasia and biosecurity. I have blog material for months!

The BQA training was a good reminder in techniques and production practices, but overall, my main takeaway is that cattle producers take pride in their responsibility to provide proper care for cattle. There were 19 in the training session with me and I would attest that all of those cattlemen and women treat their cattle with respect. It’s our livelihood and we take pride in caring for our livestock. While I already knew about treating our cattle with care and respect, by being BQA Certified, I am better prepared to share how our industry is taking a producer-led stance to make the best decisions for the welfare of our animals and the safety of our beef supply.

To find a BQA training near you, go to www.bqa.org or become certified online. 

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